By Lynn Paris
I Remember Where I Was
There was a euphoria that set in as Barack Obama walked out on the stage in Grant Park as this country’s next president, one I believed transcended politics, one that represented the manifestation of what American ideals are all about: liberty and equality for all. For a moment, I imagined it was felt by everyone—the making of history; the unleashing of optimism; the rekindling of hope. I honestly thought that regardless of whom you’d voted for, and regardless of your ideology, the moment was bigger than any of that; it was one of those “I remember where I was when” moments.
And I was right, but not in the way I imagined. Because for some it was like: I remember where I was when the first Catholic was elected president, or when we landed on the moon, or when the Giants won the Super Bowl. And for others, it was like: I remember where I was when Kennedy was assassinated or when the Challenger went down, or when the planes hit the World Trade Center. It was two different realities.
If you only watch and listen to mainstream media, the sense of excitement, indeed of triumph, is palpable. You can easily imagine that the country and the world are unified, celebrating at one huge “OK, let’s fix this mess” party. Millions are snugly cocooned in that victory bubble. But I live in a very red part of Texas, and let me tell you, there’s not much snuggling going on around here. Judging by the atmosphere where I work, or in my husband’s office, or in church on Sunday, it’s as if nothing has happened. What some have called the greatest moment in their lives, a transformational moment in American history, is pretty much ignored.
But in the blogosphere that’s certainly not the case. If I’ve read one, I’ve read a hundred reasons why we should ALL be afraid. And depending on your viewpoint, we should either be afraid because Obama’s our next president, or afraid because this country remains so unalterably divided.
Clearly there are three categories of people who are feeling glum at the prospect of an Obama presidency. The first are the “issues” people, and they can actually be sub-divided into two smaller categories. The point is, they are ideologically opposed to Barack’s stand on the issues. For some, it’s only one issue: abortion. So, they’re not against Obama so much as they are never going to vote for a democrat as long as the Democratic Party continues to have a pro-choice platform and the republicans have a platform that’s pro-life. And of course, it’s not so much the platform, it’s the knowledge that whoever becomes president will (more than likely) have the power to appoint a judge or two to the Supreme Court that could tilt the Court in the direction of either upholding or overturning Roe v. Wade.
Being pro-life myself, I get this issue, so I engaged in an email discussion with a true believer. I told her that I believed this was a religious conviction, one that I had no constitutional right to impose on others. I also pointed out that there were many issues based on biblical principles that I felt had to be taken into consideration before voting: like caring for the needy, the sick, or the environment. She answered so passionately that I include her response here: “I have been led to put the right to life above other very important issues. I certainly do not want inefficient health care programs, poor educational programs, and less money. But I’d rather trust God with my health, take more responsibility for my own children’s education and live off less money than continue to allow millions of babies to have their bodies ripped from their mother’s wombs limb from limb. If I support Obama, I support this continued slaughtering of human beings. I choose to put these lives before my own comfort and desires for America (and yes even before my own grandchildren's lives). I’ll bet I have the same desires for America that you do, but I have been led to put this one issue above all others.
The other “issues” folks are the true conservatives. My friend Joseph Phillips expresses that viewpoint in his current column. He sees Obama’s victory as a vindication of his belief in the American ideals as set forth by our founding fathers, but he also sees it as a defeat for conservatism, albeit a temporary one. Joseph believes there are only three rights guaranteed us: the rights to life, liberty and private property. Nowhere does that include the “right” to, say, affordable and accessible health care. He and the other issue folks are constitutionally against any messing with free-market capitalism or any redistributing of wealth. To be fair, they are also color-blind. That is to say, Joseph wouldn’t vote for a candidate because he is black anymore than I would vote for a candidate because she is female.
I respect “the issues” people. They have strong convictions, and they stay true to them.
It’s the third category of people—the hate-mongers who disturb me. Those who didn’t vote for Obama because they swallowed (or spread) all that guilt-by-association, palling around with terrorists, fear of the country turning Muslim and socialist-types. Or worse, the young rednecks who threw eggs at Obama’s photo or the older ones who peppered their dinner conversations with racial slurs. There remain thousands of citizens out there who are scared to death of what an Obama presidency will mean for this country. They’re buying guns by the truckload; the gun industry is the only one thriving in our embattled economy. And they’re perpetuating their fear tactics on posts and blogs all over the web.
I respect their right to free speech . . . the founding fathers had a lot to say about THAT, too. But they are the ones who make me afraid, because they are proof that this country remains unalterably divided. At a time when what is best in us is called for they are clinging to what is worst.
I was struck by Obama’s interview on “60 Minutes” when he said that he was absolutely in favor of free market capitalism but that he also felt it was the government’s obligation to kick-start the economy when it had become as disastrous as ours has. Is that so incredibly radical that we can’t just wait and see? Hey . . . I gave W. almost three years before I changed my mind. I believed we had to give him a chance to be the “compassionate conservative” he claimed to be. I gave him the benefit of the doubt despite Florida, and despite tax cuts for the wealthy, because I took him at his word on WMDs and on No Child Left Behind. I was wrong, of course, but I didn’t want to be.
It saddens me that the entire country can’t experience a suspension of disbelief for just a moment . . . That the enormity of the problems we face as a nation can’t compel us all to place some faith in change, a new approach, a fresh perspective. Why wouldn’t we all want to at least try something different?
So I admit it . . . this year I wanted to try being inspired. In fact, my yearning to be inspired transcended all other issues. And, I’ve got to admit, it’s an awesome feeling to have hope in the future again. It’s amazing to watch Obama on “60 Minutes” and agree with what he says and respect the intelligence with which he says it. I may be wrong again. But if I could give Bush almost three years, why can’t we all (OK, except for the racists) rally around our 44th president, at least until he proves he doesn’t deserve it? He COULD be exactly who he says he is, and that would be truly inspirational.
There's one thing I know with certainty. I'll remember where I was when this country elected Barack Obama as President.